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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

College Would Never Be Like This Again ...

Tall Story (1960) Is Fonda's First and Perkins' Last Pre-Norman

When did dreamy close-ups in movies go away, or have they? Certainly ones like given Jane Fonda in Tall Story stopped, as in step right in and join her for a clinch sort that made Hollywood a drug masses sought before slide by 1960 that was steepening. Tall Story was sold as launch for Fonda as New Face in All-Caps. Look at the trailer and know this was dusk on old days and already an anachronism when vet Josh Logan put a distinctly old-style collegiate farce in play. For Warners, it was more The Male Animal than current landscape where blackboards meant a jungle and even Dick Clark couldn't harness reckless youth, Tall Story being old folks' notion of how student bodies comport (its companion piece at twilight: High Time). They should have put Tall Story on a time machine and sent it back to 40's theatres where it belonged.

So why have I watched several times? Maybe there's pity for a thing so displaced in a changing culture. Look where Jane Fonda went from here. Barbarella was ahead by less than a decade, with Euro sex dramas during interim that got her spread over Playboy pages, an unauthorized use, but Fonda was by then vanguard of lax standards, so they'd argue she assumed a risk. Remarkable thing is her still working, as in a Netflix sitcom, plus feature reunion with Robert Redford (supposedly a small part in Tall Story, though I couldn't spot him). That's going on sixty years when you count neophyte stage work, longer than father Henry was active. Used to be news when a Gloria Swanson or Lillian Gish showed up in new stuff, but now we've got fresh epoch of working antiques, only more of them, lots more. Will Redford, for instance, ever stop? And yet to me he's never been better than at recent efforts; an only reason I watched one of the Captain Americas was RR being the villain, his single line, Oh, Renata, I wish you'd knocked, a bigger sock than all of CGI that surrounded it.

But back to Tall Story. It was Broadway spawned, was saucy, and again put forth proposition, known from a Plastic Age and since, that college was a Petri dish for young love, and hunting ground for  husbands, that notion already discredited by dawn of the 60's, and soon to be unthinkable as a plot device. Jane Fonda is frank here as to mate-quest, and majors in home economics toward that end. Her quarry is first-billed Anthony Perkins, and here is where Tall Story achieves spooky resonance, the picture released but months in front of Psycho. There must have been heck of a fault line between audiences that saw Tall Story before Psycho and those that saw it after. Talk about adjustment issues! Tony was twitchy at best of times, but at least not dangerous, that is before he was Norman. Watching Tall Story since Psycho yields subtext enough to drown in. Every move and line reading from Perkins is freighted with Norman, and that makes this woeful dated comedy a must-watch, even where the rest, nearly as bizarre and fascinating, is left off equation.

Much of Tall Story is known fact of athletics being true business of colleges rather than education. "Ethics" professor Ray Walston cites $4,000 as "a year's salary." Should I Google and find out if that really was case for 1960 instructors? Cold war fun is had when "Custer College" engages basketball against Russian students, Tony the lanky center who rescues honor for his team. Young players surround Perkins like hungry wolves after fame he enjoyed. I saw Gary Lockwood, Van Williams, "Billy Jack" Laughlin, and could but imagine laser-like ambition driving each ... but would any forfeit a future, even if unknowingly, by essaying Norman Bates? Perkins got immortality for Psycho, but gave up chance he'd be a conventional leading man again, or at least one audiences could enjoy comfortably. Tall Story for me played as though it would burst into a musical, which doesn't happen, but sheer odd-ness of the thing --- and steel yourself for very extended kiss-and-nibble scenes twixt Fonda and Perkins --- make this one fun in ways not anticipated by WB marketers. They'd sell Tall Story as "Big and Blushy," which it very much is, given what we know now that viewers then did not. TCM runs Tall Story in HD, and there is a DVD from Warner Archive.


Blogger Supersoul said...

Tall Story was a must-see for us eighth graders in 1960 at Bradley Beach (NJ) Grammar School. I recall the buzz about it during the week before it opened at the Palace Theatre in BB (the same theatre frequented by young Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito). I never saw them there, but then they would have been there a few years earlier.

I'm not sure why the movie was so well anticipated by my friends. Probably because of Tony Perkins, who was a favorite of young girls at the time. I knew Jane Fonda was Henry's daughter, being a big fan of classic movies even as a child, but knew little else about her. That was soon to change upon viewing her for the first time. What an impression she made on this 13 year old naïve, inexperienced school boy! I was smitten to say the least.

I don't remember much of the story after almost 60 years, but I never forgot my first movie crush.

6:43 AM  
Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

Who knew Henry Fonda looked so fabulous as a woman? Looking at Jane Fonda there is NO doubt that HF was her dad and yet she looks just like him while being a beautiful woman!
I wonder if Steve Railsback had a truncated career, too, for playing Charles Manson on a TV version of "Helter Skelter"? The Wolf, man.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

What's with the airbrushing of Perkins' leg in that photo with him in the basketball uniform?

10:17 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

No idea. It sure wasn't me that airbrushed it.

4:18 AM  
Blogger tbonemankini said...

Saw this on TV many years later... bit of a giggle at feminist Jane mouthing words that would stick in her throat later on....but she was always very good at reinventing herself...

3:59 AM  
Blogger rnigma said...

I didn't notice how wonky Tony's leg looked in that still...probably because my attention was on Jane's legs...

7:56 PM  

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